"Questions from a Student": Deducing the law out of context (Part III)

Like I have been told a number of times, I am not a scholar. Yet, are my questions not valid ones? Don’t they make sense? Did not the Qur’an tell me to use my brain: “Do they not then earnestly seek to understand the Qur’an, or are their hearts locked up by them?” (47:24). Did not God want me to use my brain, which He gave me? I mean, ordinary every day human beings in our day and age object when their statments and comments are taken out of context. Why, then, do we do the same with our own beloved Prophet (pbuh)?

For instance, the Prophet (pbuh) once said, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day should not pray ‘Asr except in the land of Bani Qurayzah.” Bani Qurayzah was a Jewish tribe living in Medina at the time. Would be correct for me to then conclude that, since I am not in the land of Bani Qurayzah, I don’t have to pray ‘Asr? I mean, the Prophet (pbuh) said so. “You are not a scholar.” OK, would it be correct for a scholar, such as Hamza Yusuf Hanson, to say the same? Absolutely not. This statement had a context, and it is essential that we, as his (pbuh) devoted followers, understand this context.

This statement was uttered by the Prophet (pbuh) just before he set out for battle against Bani Qurayzah after the Battle of the Trench. After the pagans retreated from the battle, the Prophet (pbuh) went home to rest. The Angel Gabriel visited him at his home, in the form of his companion Duhya Al Kalbi (r), and asked him, “Have you laid down your weapons?” The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Yes.” The Angel replied, “Well, the angels have not laid down their weapons,” and he told the Prophet (pbuh) to go and fight Bani Qurayzah for their breaking of their treaty with the Muslims. The Prophet later said, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day should not pray ‘Asr except in the land of Bani Qurayzah.”

If we did not have this context, would we have properly understood this statement? If we did not have this context, we could have misunderstood the Prophet (pubh) and erroneously missed ‘Asr prayers for years and committing a serious sin. But, we have the context, and that context is absolutely essential.

Yet, this does not necessarily mean that both moonsighting interpretations are not correct. In fact, my dear friend and brother Azhar Usman brought up some very important points about the issue of moonsighting that have educated me tremendously. Nevertheless, I don’t think it is wrong for people to interpret the hadith of Ibn Umar (r) about the moon in a way to allow using astronomical calculations, and I don’t think it is wrong if Muslims want to continue to go out into the desert to look for the moon (or the freezing cold of Chicago). Indeed, when the Prophet (pbuh) said not to pray except at Bani Qurayzah, the companions split along two lines: one group took his statement metaphorically, i.e., the Prophet (pubh) did not actually mean not to pray except at Bani Qurayzah. He said so to motivate the companions to get to Bani Qurayzah quickly. Thus, on their way to the lands of Bani Qurayzah, the time for ‘Asr prayer came, and they stopped and prayed. I agree with this interpretation, even though I am not a scholar.

The other group of companions, however, believed differently. They reasoned that, if the Prophet (pbuh) said don’t pray ‘Asr except at Bani Qurayzah, then that is what they will do, even if it is way past sunset. When asked about these differing interpretations, the Prophet (pbuh) concurred with both views. Equally important, the companions did not enter into a dispute. Each group did their own thing and later asked the Prophet (pbuh) about it.

That is the most important point of my whole three-part tirade over the sighting of the moon. We should not let this moon issue divide us. I think the Prophet (pbuh) would agree with both interpretations. Thus, even though I am expressing my frustrations–admittedly in a rather long-winded fashion–about Ibn Taymiyah’s interpretation of Ibn Umar (r)’s hadith, I am not going to disparage that wonderful scholar. I am not going to split the community along “hilal” lines. I am not going to refuse to go a particular mosque because they don’t use astronomical calculations. No. That, rather than using astronomical calculations, would go against the “concensus of the scholars,” “would spoil the beauty and simplicity of this religion,” and worst of all, “would be bluntly disobeying the Messenger of Allaah (S),” as Sh. Muhammad al-Jibaly said.

It is not worth dividing the Muslim community over such a silly issue. May God bless the Muslim ummah, wherever it may be, whether it uses astronomy or the naked eye to “sight” the moon, and whatever day it celebrates the two Eids.


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